Brenda Edwards: ‘Jamal had this empathy for young people, to give them the confidence to believe in themselves’
In the run-up to Soho House Festival’s tribute to SB.TV founder, Jamal Edwards, his mother and ‘Loose Women’ presenter, Brenda, opens up about her son’s unwavering dedication to nurturing the next generation and the extraordinary legacy she plans to continue in his name
Saturday 9 July 2022 By Karen Edwards Photography by Gavin Bond and Sebastian Böttcher Illustration by Reuben Dangoor
Once in a generation, the British music industry sees a great influencer come along to shake things up. For the past 16 years, that person has been Jamal Edwards.
In 2006, Jamal began filming freestyle rap and music videos with his peers around his hometown of Acton, west London. For three years, he plugged away; filming, editing and producing countless show reels for young artists who didn’t have the means to get recognised any other way. ‘He knew, and he was adamant, that filming was his passion,’ confides Jamal’s mother, Brenda. ‘He knew from a very young age that was what he wanted to do. I admire that.’
By uploading the videos onto his YouTube platform, SB.TV, named after his rap name ‘SmokeyBarz’, Jamal began to attract followers. As news of a new underground music channel for less privileged British artists spread, his audience grew into the hundreds of thousands.
Fast forward a few years and Jamal would catapult the careers of a multitude of British artists, from Ed Sheeran and Jessie J to Skepta, Stormzy and Dave. SB.TV’s alumni of names had budded on the streets of London and were now finding their way to become BRIT and Grammy Award-winning scales of famous. At the same time, Edwards claimed the first UK-based interviews for Drake and Nicki Minaj – ahead of the UK’s music press and broadsheet newspapers.
His sudden profile only spurred Jamal on. In his book, Self Belief: The Vision: How To Be A Success On Your Own Terms published in 2013, he wrote: ‘Sometimes all it takes is for one person to give you permission to have a go at pursuing your ideas… I want to try to be that person for anyone who reads this book.’ An MBE in 2015 for his services to music would cement the sheer gamut of Jamal’s hard work. Since its conception, SB.TV has garnered 1.23 million subscribers.
On 20 February 2022, Jamal passed away from a cardiac arrhythmia. The world had lost a vital and courageous cultural visionary; one who was brave and kind, and who simply wished to give others a chance. While thousands gathered at a mural of Edwards in Acton, created by scrap metal artist Matt Small, Brenda and Edwards’ sister Tanisha set up The Jamal Edwards Self Belief Trust – a legacy to tackle homelessness and mental health struggles in young people, just as Jamal himself had hoped to do.
‘When he was in my tummy and I played music, you’d see him dancing – you’d see an elbow or a foot whenever music was being played’
On Saturday 9 July, Soho House has dedicated its festival that day to Jamal, renaming the event Jamal’s House Festival in his honour. A member of Soho House’s Under 27 Committee, Jamal had been a central member of the Soho House advisory board, as well as a loyal attendee of Soho House Festival for many years. This Saturday, musical greats – including Fatboy Slim, Bastille, Jessie J and DJ Trevor Nelson – will come together at the special request of Brenda to celebrate the life of an extraordinary young man.
What was Jamal like as a boy?
‘Jamal… loved to laugh. He was a happy child; he was very helpful – he always wanted to help me. [I will always remember that] he used to crawl sideways. He never went in a straight line, like a lot of babies do. He just followed his own path – which I think sums him up. And when he grew up, he just did his own thing.’
At what stage could you see his joy for music growing?
‘I live around music 24/7 myself, so Jamal was always around music – [and] all different types – from jazz to pop to soul to reggae to classical, folk, indie, the lot. When he was in my tummy and I played music, you’d see him dancing – you’d see an elbow or a foot whenever music was being played. When he came out, there was music continually around him.’
You famously bought him a video camera for his 15th birthday. What was the reason behind this gift?
‘As Jamal was growing up, I would always give the kids [Jamal and his younger sister, Tanisha] an Argos catalogue at Christmas time and say, “OK, make a list of what you want”. So that year, he said, “I’d like a camera”. He wanted it to film the foxes – the wildlife in our back garden. And in those days they were like £400 to £500, and that was a lot of money back then. He said, “I promise I’ll use it”. So, I bought it for him. His grin went from ear to ear.’
Jamal was inspired to film music videos in the area where you lived in Acton. Where did the idea to champion new artists stem from?
‘[It] was when I did The X Factor in 2005. He was at the semi-finals with his sister, and that was the week I was voted off. I remember he was really upset, and he said, “Mummy, how come you didn’t get into the final?” He was in tears and he said, “I know what I’m going to do. I’m going to start my own channel for people who will not have an opportunity and I’m going to give them an opportunity.” And he went off and did it!’
Did you realise at the time what powerful work he was doing?
‘I had no idea of the scale… of how much he achieved in such a short space of time. I would always notice he had disappeared. I’d ask [Tanisha], “Where’s Jamal?” [and the reply would be] “He’s out filming on the estate.” There was just this excitement about what he’d film. I could see how much his face lit up around filming and music, and the rappers on the estate; it showed me it was his passion.’
When did you realise the impact SB.TV was having on the music industry?
‘I do remember Jamal came running downstairs one evening. I was watching telly and [he] asked, “Mummy, can you come upstairs? This person has sent me this – what do you think of it?” It was Ed [Sheeran] that had sent something through of him performing. I said, “Oh, he’s got a very nice voice, he’s very unique sounding – I’ve not heard of anything like that. You should do a video!” [Once] they did the video of “You Need Me, I Don’t Need You”, Jamal was really excited about it. I thought, “This is really good”. [From then] he would give me updates with what was happening with Ed. “Ed’s doing this gig… Ed’s got a phone call from this record company. Ed’s got a phone call from Sir Elton John”.’
Behind the scenes he was also quietly helping at homeless shelters and refurbishing youth centres around Acton. What changes did he hope to see in his community?
‘Since about 2014, every Christmas for 10 years, Jamal would help out at a young people’s homeless shelter. Just talking to people, listening to people. It was a few years before [even] I realised what he was doing. He would do things to help people and didn’t want to get acknowledgement for it. So, he just wouldn’t say anything. Jamal would give the time of day to anybody – that was the beauty of him. I really admired him for doing that. [Even though] he was a youngster himself, he was acknowledging there were other young people who were in great need. It was just this empathy that he had for young people, to try and give them some confidence, and get them to believe in themselves. I don’t know where that came from, it was just him – it was in his make-up.’
In the days and weeks that followed Jamal’s passing, you shared that you and Tanisha had set up The Jamal Edwards Self Belief Trust. Can you tell me about the work you plan to do through it?
‘As Jamal had a business, he had to write a will, which I didn’t know about until he passed. Jamal was very specific – he wanted us to focus on the homelessness and mental health for young people, and giving [them] an opportunity where they wouldn’t see it. That’s why I set up The Jamal Edwards Self Belief Trust. Why Self Belief? That was his motto, his mantra. He would always say, “Self-belief, Mum”.
Within the trust is the Self Belief Academy. Jamal was 31 years old when he passed away – so we want to offer 31 young people an opportunity to live their dream within the creative media industry. We want to give [them] cognitive and lifestyle mentoring before they [are paired with creative media] organisations. [Each programme] will be a year in total. We also want to try to intervene, to stop young people from getting to [homelessness]. So, we’ll target young people in the foster care system and our homeless sanctuary will provide a place for them to go, so they can then focus on cognitive and life skills, and their mental health.’
Soho House has renamed the Saturday date of its House Festival, calling it Jamal’s House Festival in tribute to your son. How much were you involved in curating the line-up for the day?
‘It is nice to hear how much Jamal did for so many people, and I was really proud to be told that Soho House wanted to do this for him. It blew me away when I was approached. I was lost for words. There are so many artists who had appeared on SB.TV, so I said to Tanisha, “Come on, you need to help me with this because… I just don’t know where to start”. The [final line-up of] artists we have chosen all featured on SB.TV. But also, we wanted artists who have been a vocal part of the platform; people who will bring some fun and some life to the festival day.’
How do you hope the attending music fans will remember – and celebrate – Jamal?
‘I just want everyone who comes to remember him as a person who lived life to the fullest, had a lot of fun, and was very inclusive. It’s going to be an emotional day. It’s about everyone coming together there to eat, drink, be merry and have some fun and dance the night away, which is exactly what Jamal would have been doing, and he will be doing – I know he will.’
Support The Jamal Edwards Self Belief fundraiser here